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Government/Politics

Bexar County Justice of the Peace retires citing nepotism, taxpayer waste and lack of oversight.

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Bexar County
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Judge Ciro Rodriguez (left) retired at the end of September, highlighting a well known feud with his colleague Judge Robert Tejeda

Bexar County Justice of the Peace Ciro Rodriguez retired Thursday afternoon and in a letter made several allegations of malfeasance and called for more oversight. The former congressman had another year before his elected term expired as a judge ruling on everything from parking tickets to evictions.

The letter bookended a long-simmering feud between members of two South Side political dynasties that boiled over this year.

In the letter that TPR has obtained, Rodriguez said he lacked the staff to do his job. His court manager was eliminated in the recently passed county budget.

He wrote that he can no longer be part of a system where “the practice of nepotism and spending taxpayer dollars on salaries for employees who do not appear for work continues within this court.”

According to Rodriguez’s now unemployed court manager, Sylvia Mendelsohn, that is a reference to the other Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace, Robert Tejeda, and how he runs the office.

“The administrator of this office is Robert Tejeda. And Robert Tejeda has not been seen in three years,” she said.

Tejeda did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but his court manager Leticia Garcia disputed Mendelsohn’s description of Tejeda’s attendance. She said that he only began working remotely when the pandemic began.

An executive order from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff in 2018 appointed Rodriguez to full-time judge — the JP position had been part-time — to assist as Tejeda recuperated from an unnamed ailment. The pay was also raised. According to other judges who know him, Tejeda had been struck by an illness which affected his mobility. His mind, they said, was not affected.

Mendelsohn’s job and previous connection to the Rodriguez family put her in the middle of a political dispute between the two South Side families. Ciro’s brother Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez beat Robert Tejeda in a Democratic primary fight for Commissioners Court more than 15 years ago. Chico Rodriguez was also on the Commissioners’ Court when Precinct 1 added the second JP seat, which Ciro won.

Both Judge Rodriguez and Judge Tejeda are not without controversy.

Judge Rodriguez was accused of illegally campaigning for his daughter's run for Texas State Senate early last year, according to media reports. His full-time pay was questioned by county budget officials after Tejeda returned to work full time.

Tejeda was accused of time-clock theft seven years ago when he was a Bexar County juvenile case manager. An employee said Tejeda was having his wife Lynn clock out for him despite having left earlier. The woman who spoke out in that case said she was retaliated against and had job duties stripped from her. Tejeda’s wife, Lynn, also works for the Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace.

Mendelsohn said she felt targeted and retaliated against.

“This was abuse of power to the umph degree,” Mendelsohn said.

She was hired in December to assist Rodriguez with his court. Her earlier job was with his brother — Chico Rodriguez — the now-former Precinct 1 Commissioner.

Rodriguez did not speak to TPR for this story. Many of the documents cited within were provided by Mendelsohn.

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Trouble started almost immediately after Mendelsohn started working for Ciro Rodriguez.

Mendelsohn said that Tejeda did not approve of her being hired. Her job was approved by Rodriguez and the county auditor, and Tejeda disapproved and went to great lengths to keep her out, including barring her from the building.

On her first day in January of this year she said she was met at the door by three constables and told to read an order on the door:

“The local administrative judge (Tejeda) hereby denies, disapproves and does not accept or recognize the appointment illegally made by the part-time Judge, Ciro D. Rodriguez, who does not have the authority power or capacity to select the court manager for precinct 1 place 2,” it stated. The order was titled, “Authorizing legitimate employees to enter the court.”

Mendelsohn said she was told if she tried to enter the building, the constable for Precinct 1, Ruben Tejeda — Robert’s cousin — would have her removed.

“They put up a no trespass on the door and said I would be arrested by a constable if I showed up,” she said.

The Precinct 1 Constable’s office said it has no record of this ever having happened.

“We don’t have the authority to do that, if she was a Bexar County employee,” said a Chief Deputy Constable Salvador Rodriguez, disputing to TPR the event ever took place.

Mendelsohn sent TPR a short video from that morning as proof. In it Ciro Rodriguez is standing in what appears to be the Precinct 1 office on Pleasanton Road.

“You know darn well that this is political and an abuse of power,” Judge Rodriguez loudly told two constables in the short video. Constables act as security for the JP courts. Because the video is so short, it isn’t clear what Rodriguez is referring to but Mendelsohn said it was because they blocked her entrance.

She said only after the judge escorted her, did she get into the office. She was provided no space to work and said she was forced to work in the judge’s chambers. All the while, the notifications saying she didn’t work there and shouldn’t be in the building remained up.

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After months of what she called harassment, Mendelsohn filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct

Mendelsohn got a lawyer.

“I respectfully request that YOU CEASE AND DESIST FROM ANY ATTEMPT TO BAR MY CLIENT FROM ENTERING THE PREMISES AT 3505 PLEASANTON ROAD,” said Ernest Valdez, Mendelsohn’s lawyer, in a letter to the constables.

Tejeda went so far as to name a different person as court manager. Rodriguez responded with his own order that stated he had sole power to choose his manager under state law. An email TPR has reviewed between the District Attorney’s office and the County Auditor sided with Rodriguez.

“I hereby order, Constable Ruben C. Tejeda to immediately remove the illegal posting of an Administrative Order by Judge Robert Tejeda from the Front Entry Doors,” the email said.

Despite two orders from Rodriguez calling the postings “illegal,” they remained posted.

Constable Tejeda responded in a letter that he wouldn’t remove the postings because his cousin Judge Tejeda was the administrative judge of the precinct and it was — in effect — above his pay grade to do so. He said he would ask the DA’s office.

At that point in her tenure, not only was Mendelsohn supposed to be barred from the building but a letter from Rodriguez said the staff — at the request of Judge Tejeda — were not working with his court. Defendants and prosecutors weren’t being alerted to trial dates, said Mendelsohn. Cases weren’t being referred.

“They should be instructed to work for both Judges in Precinct 1. Twenty-two staffers are employed to perform the work required to run both courts,” Rodriguez wrote in a letter dated March 22. “Nor should staff feel threatened for not following your orders.”

This description was disputed by one of the staff, who said no one was directed to not help Rodriguez.

“As a matter of fact, staff was always there to assist but in Judge Rodriguez’s mind that's not good enough for him,” said Leticia Garcia, Ruben Tejeda’s court manager.

Mendelsohn and her lawyer said she sent a complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct over the posted court orders. The Commission doesn’t confirm or deny complaints.

“Judge Tejeda has created a hostile work environment… He has deliberately continued to embarrass me by posting my name on the order for the public to view,” it read.

Rodriguez, seeking help with how the staff were apportioned, went as far as requesting mediation through Bexar County.

“I asked to mediate so that we can have a smooth process to conduct our courts in a manner that is successful, functional and effective,” said Rodriguez in a letter to Tejeda.

According to documents, Tejeda did not participate in the mediation and it was canceled.

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Sylvia Mendelsohn
The cancellation notification for the judges' mediation

Bexar County staff said in budget discussions that they analyzed the workload in JP Precinct 1 and found that 75% of cases were being filed in Tejeda’s court. This was previously the focus of news reports questioning Rodriguez’s pay.

The county budget analysis was one of the reasons staff recommended consolidation, which is currently being explored. Precinct 1 was the only JP office with two judges. The others were eliminated by 2019. Precinct 1 reportedly has significantly higher case load than other courts, but the filings have dropped across the board since the pandemic began.

County Commissioner Rebecca Clay Flores defeated incumbent commissioner Chico Rodriguez (Ciro’s Brother) in a 2020 Democratic Primary for the seat. She made the motioned to explore consolidating the office as well, eliminating the second judge position.

“They made the recommendation that we no longer needed that second position. Over the last several years the other precincts also eliminated their Place 2’s so we’re going to be in line with the rest of the county,” said Clay-Flores.

Clay-Flores said she felt the data was accurate. She said she didn’t know anything about the behavior described in the letter, but when asked if she was troubled by the allegations, she said “no.”

Mendelsohn tried meeting with commissioners to talk about her issues. She cc’d other judges on emails to the constable and others. Some officials TPR spoke to felt they weren’t really empowered to address the complaints she was making. Others wrote it off as South Side politics, where family endorsements mean something, people hold grudges and elections have consequences.

It was clear though that word was getting around about the feud boiling over on the city’s South Side. It even made it to commissioners court, but as a joke.

“We appoint you the referee out there between the two judges, okay,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told Constable Ruben Tejeda at a May 4, 2021, meeting to laughter from other commissioners.

The constable replied laughing, “Well, you gotta give me a striped shirt.”

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